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The DM has the power to break and add rules, but can they change the starting money? What is the starting money? Even if the DM can change the amount, how much can he/she give?

In the campaign I'm playing (Curse of Strahd), the DM gave 800 GP to a player. He did not roll for how he lived his background and I only got 80 GP. We are starting at 3rd level.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! You are much more likely to get a good answer if you tell us which D&D edition you are using (e.g. 5th Edition). Also, what exactly is your question? "Was I wrong to give a player 800gp" is different from "What is the most money a player character can have at creation". The latter implies rules optimisation, but the former is about fairness and balance in the game. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 23 at 14:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does this answer your question? Is there a limit to Rule 0? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 23 at 15:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov I don't think that's a dupe; it's a bit too broad to apply to this discrete case of this discrete game element, I think. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 23 at 15:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ "He got 800g and I got 80g" what armor? weapons? jewelry? is he a mage and you a warrior? Int differences might dictate better starting money (Smarter choices)... expenses as well (did he have to immediately buy ruby powder for spells)? main question: You focus on one thing... can you provide more details that might give us a clue as to why? A start to a quest is more than just $$$. \$\endgroup\$
    – WernerCD
    Jun 24 at 1:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ According to the rules, it's obvious that the DM can to whatever they want. So in my eyes, this question is either a "read me the rules" type question, or it should be reworded as something like "My DM gave another player substantially more starting money than me. How should I handle this situation?". \$\endgroup\$ Jun 24 at 19:40
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'Rules' for starting money / equipment apply at first level

In the basic rules, and in the PHB, the PCs can choose from a menu of starting equipment1 and will usually get some gold from their background, or alternately, they can roll for money (Starting Wealth By Class) and then select various starting equipment to purchase with that gold as they begin. The most anyone could get from that is to max out a 5d4 roll (200 gp) and add 10 or 15 gp from a background.

You are starting at third level, so the wealth at start-up is controlled by the DM. There's guidance on that in the Dungeon Master's Guide (p. 38, under "Starting At Higher Level"), but no hard and fast rule (italics for emphasis mine):

Starting equipment for characters above 1st level is entirely at your discretion since you give out treasure at your own pace.

While the DMG table in that section suggests that at levels 1 through 4 - regardless of a high-, medium-, or low-magic setting - the PCs begin with standard equipment per level 1, that is not a requirement. For example, when I started a Saltmarsh campaign at level 1 as the DM, I chose to give each PC a common magic item from the table in Xanathar's Guide To Everything. I picked each item to fit the class, backstory, and background of the PCs that were generated. I broke no rule in doing so.

Your problem: apparent lack of fairness

Why you started with 80 GP and your co-player started with 800 GP is something you should address in person with your DM. Find out why they did that, and ask them for a fairer starting wealth basis if you feel that you were short-changed.


1 A related Q&A shows how to get the most out of the 'starting equipment' rules to end up with just over 200 GP at first level in Adventurer's League.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The last part is the most important one. Rule 0 applies as long as everyone is having fun \$\endgroup\$ Jun 24 at 10:19
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The DM certainly can do things like this; but I think the 'why' is more important than the act itself. It feels unfair, and 800 GP is a lot of money, especially at low levels, so this seems like a strange decision.

In my Eberron game, I allowed one character to functionally start with an extra 100 GP because she wanted her Valenar elf paladin to specialize in the double-scimitar, a very expensive weapon. ​I could have made her start with a cheaper weapon and buy a double-scimitar once she had the cash for it, but there just didn't seem to be much point to that. Based on her backstory, it was reasonable for her to start with the weapon she wanted as a bequest or legacy, and if I refused, acquiring the weapon later would have been somewhat contrived because of the adventures I had planned, which would not allow her to go back to Valenar for a while.

However, I did try to balance things out by giving each of the other players a common magic item that fit their character -- a shiftweave outfit, an everbright lantern, and so on. I didn't just hand one character a stack of gold and walk off.

Now that said, even if there was no effort at fairness, it might still be okay. If the 800 gold was in the form of a sailboat, for example, it's not really giving that to one character as much as just giving the group as a whole the necessary transportation for the adventure you have planned. Sort of like how Han Solo technically owns the Millennium Falcon, but functionally it's there to get the adventuring party to whatever location they need to get to next; it isn't just for Han's personal benefit.

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The DM decides which rules apply. Therefore they aren't bound by any of them and can give a character any amount of money.

They should keep several aspects in mind though:

  • Roleplay. Why would the character start with more or less money? Do they have rich or even noble relatives? Did they earn or steal the money?
  • Balance. What could this amount of money buy? If the character has to buy expensive but mostly useless items (such as fine clothes) or services (they have to buy the most expensive room in the inn each night) that's different from being able to buy powerful magic.
  • Fairness. One character getting more money than the others should be fun for the whole party. If the others get jealous it's usually a bad idea.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you back this up with any citation of game text? I'm not saying these things are wrong, but here at RPG.SE we have the "Back It Up" policy. See the relevant meta question for more info. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Jun 24 at 11:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ "The D&D rules help you and the other players have a good time, but the rules aren't in charge. You're the DM, and you are in charge of the game." DMG p. 4 \$\endgroup\$ Jun 24 at 11:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are supposed to be deleted. Please add the relevant quotes to the answer body. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Jun 25 at 16:14
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The rules serve the DM, not vice versa

A DM can't "break rules" because DMs don't obey the rules in the first place. In 5e the rules are DM's tool for running games. The DM is in charge, not the rules. The DMG explicitly says this a couple of times, as well as other sourcebooks:

Rules enable you and your players to have fun at the table. The rules serve you, not vice versa.

DMG page 235

You basically answered your own question by saying that

The DM has the power to break and add rules

With only one correction that DM don't "break" the rules, she removes or changes them instead. The DM is the final authority:

One rule overrides all others: the DM is the final authority on how the rules work in play.

XGtE page 5

However, if players don't have fun, that means the DM does their job poorly (and it's OK for a new DM). Maybe your DM miscalculated things, or these 800 gp were intended for the whole party, not a one player.

In this case, communicate with them. Your DM can't read minds, apparently. Ask questions ("Why do I have only 80 gp and others have 800?") and give them feedback accenting your own experience ("I feel overshadowed by other players when choosing my starting equipment, and this is not fun").

Keep in mind, that Dungeons and Dragons is not a competitive game, it's a cooperative one. Neither the DM nor other players can "win" the game over each other. Everyone is a winner, providing everyone is having fun. But if one player is not, the whole table "loses", so to say.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "if players don't have fun, that means the DM does their job poorly" which is implicit in the rules being there to enable fun and for emphasising a co-operative approach. DMs are not meant to be tyrants - some are. I left their tables. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Jun 23 at 21:38

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